William B. Bowes on Why the Church Must Highlight Mental Health Concerns

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

The mental health world can be a strange place. To be a counselor can be a beautiful, tiring, difficult, rewarding, frustrating, privileged, impactful and sometimes thankless vocation. In a counseling session I see people at their most vulnerable and sensitive, and sometimes at their most guarded. In my role I can have a window into brokenness, sin, trauma, recovery and redemption which few will have in the same way. To work in mental health is not for the faint of heart, but it is not for the insensitive, either. Even when I work with clients who in no way associate with Christianity, I have a unique and intimate role in their lives which I would freely and openly call a form of ministry. I can speak life, identity, and freedom into someone’s situation exactly when they need it most. I can be a safe place for someone in the same way that Jesus was for otherwise bruised and battered souls in his time.

I live in Boston, Massachusetts, which has some of the highest quality mental health care in the nation. I graduated with a degree in counseling from an evangelical seminary, and throughout all of my training and into my initial counseling work I have worked in secular settings, mostly with people who may never say to a pastor what they would say to me. On occasion I have worked with believers, and it is such a joy to incorporate the health of their souls into what I do. But for the most part, my counseling work is done with those having little if any knowledge of or relationship with God. So much of what I do with people I hope is for the purpose of removing barriers that they have to God. Surely, it is true that in an ultimate sense it is only through God a broken person can come to true and lasting healing. But I will say this: counseling helps. It helps immensely. God can use it in a person’s life whether they know him yet or not. And the church needs to know that.

I thank God for the fact that mental health issues are less stigmatized today than they were in years past. It is of no benefit to a believer (or to anyone, for that matter) to suffer alone or in silence. Neither is it helpful to give overly simplistic answers to problems which are vastly complex. I passionately believe in the power of prayer and in the healing work of the Holy Spirit, but it can do more harm than good to tell a person languishing in depression that they simply need to pray, or to apply Philippians 4:6 like a Band-Aid to someone who may very well have an anxiety disorder or deep-rooted trauma. I know this from personal experience as a survivor of both depression and an eating disorder; the hard work of counseling with a knowledgeable, compassionate professional is a tool that God can profoundly use to bring about healing. And one person’s healing has a way of becoming a testimony and blessing to others, just as my own healing birthed in me a desire to work with others in their time of greatest need.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, William B. Bowes

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